Researchers have long recognized that risky behavior and depression are linked for adolescents; prevailing theories assumed that depressed teens turned to drugs and sex for self-medication. Now there is solid evidence that teen girls who experiment with risky behaviors (i.e., sex and drugs) are more vulnerable to depression and that teen boys who engage in binge drinking and heavy marijuana use are prone to depression.
In an article published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, five authors from different departments (Psychology, Pediatrics, Maternal and Child Health, Research and Evaluation, and Internal Medicine) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) explored whether “gender-specific patterns of substance use and sexual behavior precede and predict depression or vice versa.” The data for the UNC-CH study came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – well-known for the large sample size and longitudinal design that allows temporal ordering among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. Further, aspects of the UNC-CH findings were replicated in five other studies. The UNC-CH study, though, moved beyond previous ones by considering typical patterns found during adolescence and by examining gender differences.
The UNC-CH scholars found conclusively that sex and drug behavior predicted an increased likelihood of depression, but depression did not predict behavior. Among girls, both experimental and high-risk behaviors predicted depression. Among boys, only high-risk behavior increased the odds of later depression.
The message is clear: teens engaging in risky behavior are at risk for depression. No wonder teen depression is so widespread when almost half (47 percent) of high school students reported in 2003 (the number has dropped since then) that during the past month they had had intercourse, 45 percent reporting drinking alcohol and 22 percent reported that they had used marijuana. Almost one-third of the students said that their feelings of sadness and hopelessness had kept them from doing normal activities over the past year.
It is important to also note that only four percent of students who abstained from drugs and sex had a problem with either depression or suicide.
So much for the cultural mantra that “sex is no big deal” and that all we need to do for teens is provide them with condoms and teach them “safe sex” practices.
Not surprisingly, this is another study to report that girls are far more negatively affected by early sexual activity than are boys. Sadly, too, girls who are already engaging in other risky behaviors have increased odds of drug experimentation if they are depressed. Depressed girls who are abstinent, however, have decreased odds of engaging in any high-risk behavior.
So, why is the left so determined to continue the myth that teens are going to “do it anyway”; that they are captive to their hormones so we must provide them with “protection” and ignore everything else?
College counselors tell us that depression on college campuses has doubled over the past decade and instances of suicide have tripled. We cannot afford to continue perpetuating the myth that “sex is no big deal.” It is a big deal; it always has been and always will be. Even if contraception and the prevention of disease transmission were 100 percent effective, which they most certainly are not, the psychological impact of meaningless, casual sexual intimacy – particularly upon young females – can never be eliminated. No amount of argument to the contrary will change that basic biological reality.
We ought to be telling adolescents the truth. We ought to make them aware of the possible consequences and the risks that they are taking when they choose to engage in certain high-risk behaviors. Scientific truths revealed in studies like the one from UNC-CH ought to prevail over the self-serving messages of the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood, organizations that perpetuate dangerous myths and whose financial survival depends upon girls and young women buying into those cultural myths.
Fortunately, the abstinence message seems to finally be getting through to teens: the latest data shows that teen sexual activity is down, teen out-of-wedlock births are down and teen abortions are down. Abstinence programs are getting more sophisticated, more effective and more widely available in the nation’s schools. Despite the smoke screen of some supposedly scientific evaluations by liberal researchers that purport to show no appreciable effect from abstinence programs, the hard data on the amazing declines in teen sexual activity and in the teen birthrate indicate that we are seeing positive results from pointing young women to the truth. So much for the phony claim that teens cannot control their sexual urges and that even if they could such repression would be detrimental to their emotional health!
It has been a long time coming, but the accumulating documentation regarding the destructive effects of sexual promiscuity has ultimately exposed the shamelessness, rationalizations and lies of the sexual libertines and radical feminists.
I believe my grandmother would be pleased to see scientific documentation confirming her common sense.
Denise H. Hallfors, Ph.D., Martha W. Waller, Ph.D., Daniel Bauer, Ph.D., Carol A. Ford, M.D., Carolyn T. Halpren, Ph.D., Which Comes First in Adolescence — Sex and Drugs or Depression?, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2005:29(3), 163-170.